I went to a very stimulating conference today, sponsored by Carnegie Mellon, Qatar, focused on research students had done on the issues facing immigrants living in Doha. I will leave aside my pleasure in undergraduate research, my congratulations to their faculty advisers, or my hope for their future as purposeful academics – all of which are true and any of which I could write a segment, and perhaps will later.
Instead, one remark has been ringing in my ears since I left the building.
A person from the audience interrogated one of the student panels, asking why the Indian Benevolence Fund did not intercede on behalf of a 63 year old Indian man whose restaurant enterprise had gone bankrupt, necessitating that he spend 7 years in Qatar working back a debt of 200,000 QR (apx. 54,000 USD). The man was unable to see his daughter in this intervening period.
Why, the questioner prodded the student panel, didn’t this ‘fund’ do something about this deplorable situation?
Well, I have a different question.
Why is this an ‘indian’ problem? Why are only indians moved by pity for this man?
Does not the idea of 63 year old man, unable to see his daughter, burdened by debt, move any heart? Of any nationality?
This is the basic question facing Qatar: how much does nationality matter? And where does it stack against the fact of our shared humanity?
The case on the everyday Doha street appears to be that social class and status marks those points between human and some not quite sub human but not quite above dust category of species.
In many countries in the world, you can be someone who works in plumbing, not a plumber, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday (or whatever days are your weekend). People can change their clothes, walk around with their families, be themselves.
But here, in such a small city, where we are all pressing up against each other, even on Friday, we see the small framed sub-continental men, shuffling their feet at the entrance of malls that they are baned from entering, regardless if they helped build them.
We in Qatar, and in the world, will only be able to progress in so much as we can move beyond race, class, even gender, to respond to the universal in those around us. We must do the good we can. Otherwise, all is lost.
I felt good when I left that room this evening because I saw the stirrings of this generation, Qatar and the world’s hope, beginning to grapple with these larger questions of how to deal with rapid change in a just and equitable manner.
But the question plagues me. Why didn’t I, as an naturalized American national respond to the plight of this 63 year old man?
As the man from the Indian Benevelonce Fund stated, quite passionately, “The minute we knew about it, two business men stepped forward and helped.”
It is my promise that I will seek to know and to notice where I can help – whether Indian, Filipino, Qatari, or Australian.
After all, isn’t this why I’m blessed with discretionary income, employment flexibility, as much schooling as I want , even up to a Ph.D?
I was additionally alarmed that (a) he seemed to think the problem of debt bondage is best solved by private charities chipping in, and (b) he was asking students to defend the actions of an organization they don’t even belong to, as though having mentioned it in a study makes them accountable for its perceived failings. There were a lot of levels of inappropriateness of that question, I think.
But I may need to *cough* “rein in” my own bitterness here. 🙂